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by Menahem Sevdermish, FGA D.Litt

Anyone who has traveled to Thailand has likely to have been confronted by this famous, but initially confusing sales pitch: "Same, same but different." It's particularly popular with merchants in the country's wonderful open markets.

At first, it is difficult to grasp what they mean. They may have shown you a green shirt with flowers instead of the pink shirt with stripes that you liked. When they see your hesitation, or possibly in anticipation of it, they will say: "Same, same but different." In other word, this is exactly the same as what you asked for BUT with a different color or pattern. You get it?

The truth is that it took me a long time to get it, because, honest to goodness, often nothing could be further from the "same" as what you asked for. But even I, after a while (30 years in my case), began to grasp what they are getting at. Sometimes it means that the buttons are the same, and sometimes that it is the same manufacturer. Sometimes it means "you asked for a shirt, but these are trousers that look similar."

Okay, you surely are asking yourself, what has all this got to do with gems?

A few weeks ago, I crossed the street from my office to visit a friend in the Israel Diamond Exchange. He used to deal in gemstones and now, they say, he is very strong in fancy color diamonds. And since at Gemewizard we work using consultants within the trade, as part of our project to adapt the Gemewizard Color Assessment Module to the colors of diamonds, I decided that I should try to convince this knowledgeable person to join our team.

So there I was in his office, gazing at many colorful diamonds, from light yellow to vivid yellow, from pink to brownish orange to slightly violet. A one-carat pinkish reddish diamond, quite heavily included, proudly reigned in the center of the display.

Suddenly it hit me. I obtain the same colors from my fancy sapphire production. I asked my friend to bear with me for a while and rushed back to my office to get my newest collection of fancy sapphires. When I returned we took a beautiful vivid yellow diamond from his collection and matched it with exactly the same color from my natural yellow sapphires. I asked him how much his gem cost, and he answered about $16,000 per carat. My gem cost $550 per carat.

Then we looked at one of his 2+ carat pinks and compared it to the same color 2+ carat gem deep pink sapphire (mind you, my sapphire was deeper and brighter than his diamond). How much? I asked. He replied around $70,000 per carat. My sapphire was $1,200 per carat.

But the big blow to me came from his reddish, heavily included, 1.05-carat round diamond. I have a beautiful red sapphire in the same color. Mine is 4 carats and gem clean. Indeed, people urged me to define it as a ruby but I insisted it is a sapphire.

He asked me how much I want for my 4 carat sapphire and I proudly replied $3,000 per carat. He asked if I would accept $2,500 since he wanted to give it to his wife to celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary. How could I refuse such a request, especially when a husband and wife's relationship was at stake? I accepted.

I asked him how much he wanted for his heavily included ugly reddish diamond. He became thoughtful and said: "Ugly you call it? Well, from you, I want only 300 for my included red." I was so glad that one of my sapphires was more valuable than his diamond of the same color, even though mine was free of inclusions. I decided on the spot to buy it, just in order to show it to my customers and prove to them that the same color sapphires may be more attractive than a diamond, and even more valuable.

So I said: will you accept $275. He became serious and asked me how I would pay and I said: "The same way you'll pay, with cash!" It suddenly dawned upon him that I may not have understood correctly. "I meant $300,000 per carat, yes?" He then told me a one carat diamond with a color just like the sapphire he had just bought from me was sold for $900,000-plus several years ago.

After packing up my beautiful sapphires and walking back to my office, I kept thinking: "Same, same but different!"